Ardhanarishvara is a combination of three words “Ardha,” “Nari,” and “Ishvara” means “half,” “woman,” and “lord,” respectively, which when combined means the lord whose half is a woman. Ardhanarishvara is the perfect representation of the balance between male and female as equal. It symbolizes the pervasive and enduring nature of Lord Shiva as “Purusha” and “Prakriti”, the feminine and masculine energies of the cosmos, the male principle of God, as the essence of Shakti, the Sacred Feminine. Breaking all the stereotypical ideologies, this depiction of Lord Shiva is still the inspiration for growth for people.
Ardhanarishwar is considered to be one of the 64 manifestations of the absolute Parashiva, according to Shaiva Siddhanta. Among the many other names of Ardhanarishvara some popular names are Ardhanarisha, Ardhayuvateeshwara, Ardhagureeshwara, Gaureeshwara, Naranari, Parangada, and Ammiappan.
Ardhanarishvara is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva, the composite of Shiva and Parvati, the half-male and half-female fused from the center. As seen in many temples across the Indian continent and Southeast Asia, the right half represents the male(Shiva) and the left half female (Parvati). The right half of the figure is adorned with the traditional ornaments of Shiva, the hair piled in a hair dress of matted locks, half of a third eye being visible on the forehead, a tiger skin covering the loins, Ganga flowing from the hair and serpents being used as ornaments around the neck. The left half of the figure showing the well combed and knotted hair, half of a tilak on the forehead, the eye outlined in black, a well-developed breast, a silk garment caught with girdles, an anklet, and the foot tinted red with henna. This is how the figure looks. Showing the similarities and differences between the male and female, still standing strong on the ground that both of them are equal. The symbolic intent signifying that males and females are inseparable.
The Origin of Ardhanarishvara
Among the many legends for the origin of Ardhanarishvara, some of them say that it emerged due to the stubbornness of Sage Bhringi to not worship Parvati. Sage Bhring believed himself to be the greatest acolyte of Lord Shiva but that he refused to worship Shiva along with Parvati. He was ready to solely dedicated himself to Lord Shiva but would not worship his consort Parvati. Here Goddess Parvati urged Shiva to unite themselves together, creating the form of Ardhanarishvara with one half of Shiva and the other half of Parvati through the central axis. Even after this fusion between them, Rishi Bhringi refused to worship Parvati. He took the form of Beetle and circumambulated Shiva only which further enraged Parvati. Parvati then cursed Bhringi to lose all the blood and muscles which are believed to have come from mother in Hindu embryology. Bhringi was all but the only skeleton now which is believed to have come from their father, which made him realize the significance of Prakriti and Purusha. He pleaded forgiveness from Parvati and was given the third leg as a reward for pleading to sustain his body.
But according to Shiva Purana, Lord Bramha, the creator of the universe was disappointed as the world was not moving at the pace and the number he had created remained constant. Being left with no other choice he went to Lord Shiva for help. This is when Shiva took this Ardhanarishwar form to make him understand the succession of generations through copulation. Afterward, Ardhanarishwar split into Purusha and Prakriti thus continuing the creation, suggesting that Shiva is nothing without Shakti, and creation, as well as the continuation of life, is impossible without both of them.
Symbolism of Ardhanarishvara
The parable of Ardhanarishvara has an intense meaning which symbolizes the quintessential balance between the male and female energies in the universe. The forces are inseparable and complementary to each other suggesting that they must work together to maintain the equilibrium.
The concept of Ardhanarishvara represents that “totality lies beyond duality”. It talks of both the part being Supreme Being and making it a whole.
Shiva holding a rosary indicates asceticism, while Parvati holding the mirror represents an embodiment of the highest material and illusory world. The fusion of these two opposites indicates that both the material and spiritual spheres have to coexist in one’s life, for it to be complete. This indicates that both these opposing forces are one and cannot be regarded as two individual identities.
The unity of Purusha and Prakriti complement each other by showing that Purusha is the passive force of the universe while Prakriti is the active one, Purusha represents potential energy and Prakriti the kinetic energy, Purusha is infinite and Prakriti helps bring that infinity to finite, and thus, embracing one another to generate and sustain the universe. The deep meaning that this one form holds is a true eye-opener for many.
Many a time the Ardhanarishvara is also compared with the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang. Yin being analogous to the gentle and feminine half while Yang representing strong, ferocious, and masculine. They are the part and parcel of the dynamic nature of the universe. Ardhanarishwar is much beyond our concept of gender. It materializes the fact that God can be male, female, and even neuter too. Linking it to our human life, Ardhanarishvara indicates that no human being is pure unisexual as each of them bears the potentiality of both male and female. It is only the dominance of one over the other that determines the sexuality of the person.
Images credit – Pinterest